It’s a small addition, yet can make a big difference to how your team engages in your meetings.
And we’re not talking about an obligatory ‘how are you?’ as a throwaway greeting. Check-ins are intentional enquiries. They are brief opening activities that allow meeting participants to connect and engage, before diving into the main agenda. Check-ins are more than just icebreakers; they set the stage for a collaborative, empathetic, and focused meeting environment.
Check-ins get everyone in the (real or virtual) room involved in answering a question, designed to understand an individual’s current mood or emotional state.
Incorporating these check-ins is more than a procedural change; it's a shift towards a more human-centred approach to meetings. The intention is to foster camaraderie and connection, contribute to a sense of psychological safety, build transparency and trust, and increase empathy.
It acknowledges that every participant is more than just a professional, and their thoughts and wellbeing matter.
Check-ins give everyone equal opportunity to speak, and be heard. It encourages active participation and creates an environment where everyone feels their input matters. This inclusivity cultivates diverse perspectives and encourages collaboration.
Starting a meeting with a check-in captures participants' attention from the get-go. It signifies the start of the meeting, encouraging participants to focus and be present.
It sets the scene to lead into a question related to the meeting topic with more engagement from participants. A well-structured check-in can help participants transition from their previous tasks or concerns to the meeting's objectives. This mental shift primes everyone for a productive discussion. For example, if your meeting is about customer experience in supermarkets, maybe your check in is: ‘tell me about a shopping fail that you’ve had recently’. This will help participants get into the broad zone of what the meeting is about.
Because check-ins provide a platform for team members to share personal experiences, successes, challenges, or even anecdotes, they help build a sense of familiarity and congeniality through more human interactions.
Making check-ins a part of your meeting culture
Checking in might sound simple, but for check-ins to work, they do need some considerations.
Choose a check-in to suit the context. Avoid using the same check-in everytime, and read the room. You don’t want to put people on the spot or have an adverse effect by making people feel more uncomfortable. Consider the vibe or energy you’re trying to facilitate, how easy it would be for someone to answer off-the-cuff and how relevant (inclusive) it would be for everyone to respond meaningfully. It can be helpful for a facilitator to kick things off with the first answer themselves. This gives others time to think of a response and to get a sense of the tone or vibe of what’s expected.
Set some guardrails around responses, for example around length or interjections, to avoid any one person commandeering a conversation. It’s about encouraging participation but also about respecting everyone’s time within the meeting. Giving a guide such as ‘respond in one sentence’ or ‘twenty seconds or less’ can quell long-winded contributions as well as challenge those inclined to one-word-responses. If participants are hesitating or struggling, give them more time by moving on and circling back later. Always keep in mind that people will have a different appetite for sharing until their comfort levels grow. Be prepared to encounter some resistance (cue, eyerolls), but keeping check-ins purposeful and efficient can help get those who may consider check-ins a waste of time on board.
Anyone can lead the check-in round, it doesn’t have to be the meeting facilitator or senior participant. They are actually a great, low-stakes way to practise facilitation of small groups.
Long meetings may require multiple check-ins to energise or re-engage the room. For large groups, you may want to do asynchronous check-ins, for example using the chat feature to post their response, drop an emoji or share a gif.
Check-ins at the start of meetings are separate to progress or project updates, but they can be used to contextually lead into the meeting topic, or prime participants for the discussion you’re about to have.
You can choose to run as a round (one person after the other in a circle), which works well when in person, or as a popcorn round (works both in person and online) where you pass it to whoever you choose to answer after you've had your turn. We do this to avoid the awkward silence of having to wait for someone to volunteer themselves.
So, what are some good check-ins to use?
Some suggestions include:
Highs and lows: Ask each participant to share a personal high (something positive) and a low (a challenge) they've experienced recently.
Personal or professional wins: Invite participants to share a recent success or accomplishment, whether it's related to work or personal life.
What’s on your mind right now: This can work two-fold, what’s on your mind professionally, and what’s on your mind personally.
Gratitude round: Have everyone express something they are grateful for.
Emoji check-in: Ask participants to use an emoji to represent their current mood or state of mind.
We like to keep things fun, like: what song always gets you on the dance floor? What's the best bird? Or less silly, but still light: When was the last time you were way outside of your comfort zone? When you are travelling, are you a “Come home the morning of the last day” person or a “Come home the night of the last day” person? What is a food you’re super into right now? What is one simple thing that still blows your mind?
Do a visual check in: Use images and ask which one most closely matches how they are feeling right now.
The bottom line is to keep it simple but significant. Make it a regular and consistent part of your meeting culture and the benefits will extend beyond the meeting room to contribute to more cohesive teams. If you’re curious about more ways to embed new ways of working into your organisation like this, book a time for a chat with us.